The Incredible Machine

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Look no further than the Deluxe Edition of Sugarland's Love on the Inside for the roots of The Incredible Machine. On the aforementioned record's bonus disc, Kristian Bush and Jennifer Nettles covered the Dream Academy's "Life in a Northern Town," which was originally recorded during the '80s; and the '80s are indeed the inspiration for the music on the duo's fourth studio offering co-produced with Byron Gallimore. The steam-punk cover art notwithstanding, the melodies, harmonies, textures, and dynamics for most of the album's 11 tracks are rooted in music from the early MTV-era. The set begins with the anthemic "All We Are," with its church organ and synth intro that give way to clipped, compressed rockist guitar riffs and a chorus that was influenced by hair metal and OMD. The title track borrows heavily from U2's Joshua Tree period and Simple Minds' post-New Gold Dream era. The drum tracks on these cuts are big: heavy, clean, snare, hi-hat, and kick drums are pervasive. While the composition and arrangements of most of these songs borrow heavily from another decade, the production doesn't. Other than the drums, most of the sounds here are processed through Nashville's modern day studio system. The album's first single, "Stuck Like Glue," liberally employs Auto-Tune, and features a near-rapped faux dancehall (as in reggae) break in the bridge; contemporary country's requisite acoustic guitars, mandolins, and accordion are in the foreground with Nettles' voice. "Every Girl Like Me" channels a breakbeat snare, a stiff, funky bassline, and something that attempts a soul groove. "Find the Beat Again" and "Wide Open" are open nods toward new wave. Sugarland have always engaged their love of earlier rock and pop in their brand of contemporary country; just never so blatantly or nostalgically. The bottom line is, that after selling more than four million records, Bush and Nettles are writing songs they hope will crossover to the larger pop market (nowhere is this more obvious than in the lyrics; they sound tossed off in favor of leaning more heavily on familiar-sounding melodies and easy choruses) even if it means leaving their audience behind. The Incredible Machine is a collection of (mostly) competent if unremarkable songs, held together by slick-- often sterile --production.

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